Gaming board unearthed at Old Deer

The disc preserves several elements including a gaming board
The disc preserves several elements including a gaming board

It’s widely accepted that our youngsters now regard the Playstation and XBox as their gaming platform of choice.

But some local children recently came across a gaming format of a very different - and far older - variety.
The tenth season of archaeological research at Deer Abbey has continued the search for an early medieval monastery.
Excavations were undertaken during June and July, with six fresh trenches being opened up during the dig and archaeological remains being found in five of them.
Derek Jennings of the dig team told the Buchanie: “There were a total of 80 volunteers, 20 Young Archaeologists Club members, their leaders and parents, 13 primary and secondary school classes - a combined total of 262 pupils and 30 teachers and parent helpers.
“In the garden soil on one trench a circular flat stone was recovered and it was quickly recognised by the archaeologist that it was a gaming board.”
Mark Hall, collections officer at Perth Museum and Art Gallery and a specialist in medieval games said: “On the face of it, and pending further analysis, this disc was cut down from a larger piece to serve as a pot disc. It may have been cut down from a roof slate or a slab that had been used to practice designs on.”
The disc preserves elements of two designs - a piece of knot work known as a Solomon’s Knot and perhaps a third or so of a gaming board.
Mark says that the grid of cells suggests the tafl group of games, most well known through the hnefatafl - a Scandinavian variant - and fidcheall - an Irish variant.
He says: “Neither motif in themselves help with the dating as both the knot work and the game board are known in early and late medieval contexts. The 7/8th century radiocarbon determination for the layers beneath where the disc was found offer a rich temptation for assigning the piece to the early medieval monastery, but this temptation remains just that until further evidence presents itself to make a valid linkbetween the disc and the date.”
Meanwhile, in the trench where the gaming board was found at least three structures have been uncovered including the end of a building constructed of post-holes.
Charcoal was recovered from one of these post-holes and it has recently been dated to 669-777AD.
Project archaeologist Ali Cameron said : “The team were incredibly excited when the gaming board was found and when we got the radiocarbon date for the post-hole we were speechless.
“The post-hole structure may not be the monastery itself, but is a building of the age of the monastery and further excavation is required to determine if this is a monastery building or remains of a farm or maybe a mill from the early medieval period.”

Heritage Lottery funding and Aberdeenshire Council Archaeology Service grants have enabled the Book of Deer Project to continue in conjunction with Cameron Archaeology to carry out a tenth season of archaeological research excavation in search for the early medieval monastery of Deer. The Book of Deer - a tenth century illuminated manuscript - was written in a monastery in the area around Deer.